Book: The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street
Author: Karina Yan Glaser
Genre: Upper MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Basic Plot: The five Vanderbeeker children have lived forever at their New York City brownstone. But now their landlord, Mr. Beiderman, is kicking them out, even though it’s Christmas. The kids decide it’s time to try to make friends with The Beiderman, even if he’s an award-winning crank. The problem is that they’ve never seen him because he never comes out of his upstairs apartment.
1) I loved this family of five kids. This book reminded me of the The Saturdays, by Elizabeth Enright, which also takes place in NYC. And I do love the fact that there are five kids. Yay for big families! (And how can you not like their last name!)
2) The illustrations are a wonderful addition to this book. They definitely helped me understand Jessie’s scientific inventions.
3) Quiet Hyacinth, Brave Hyacinth is my favourite Vandereeker! I also like Oliver (the reader) and little Laney is cute. The twins (eldest girls) are fine. I wasn’t crazy about the subplot about the dance, but it was okay. I guess I was just really drawn to the younger Vanderbeekers.
4) There is a hint of mystery to this book with regards to the grouchy recluse neighbour. I was definitely drawn into the mystery surrounding the Beiderman. (I love how they call him “the Beiderman” even though their parents keep reminding them that it’s Mr. Beiderman!)
5) The neighbourhood is sooo New York. I like how Glaser captures the atmosphere of these tiny pockets within the City… the communities where everybody knows everybody else’s business. (It makes me miss living in NYC!)
6) The quotes at the front of the book… One from Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery) and the other from Spiderweb for Two (Elizabeth Enright) are delightful. I’m always HAPPY when the authors I read have such love for other authors that I love.
7) The Vanderbeeker parents are wonderful parents. Yay for good parental figures! (Still, the kids always manage to give them the slip, because otherwise it’d be a boring book.)
8) The ending didn’t exactly make me cry, but it DID bring some tears to my eyes. Even though the ending isn’t too surprising, it felt just right.
WHAT’S NOT COOL…
1) The winter setting. I kept thinking it was summer. The kids never seem to bundle up, even though it’s December. I’ve lived in NYC. While I know it doesn’t have to be freezing cold, it IS cold enough to have to wear a winter coat in December. And if it were somehow unseasonably warm, why didn’t they mention this? Also, the kids go up on the roof at some point to pour water down a special invention (that was pretty cool!), but why are they doing this in December? It felt like a summer book. Or maybe fall/spring.
2) The five-day ticking bomb (being evicted at Christmas) was not necessary. And I found it a little unbelievable. Like suddenly Scrooge was the villain of this story??
3) They go to the bakery A LOT. Where do these kids get all their money? I can’t imagine that the parents are all that wealthy. They don’t seem to have any jobs. Why are they always going to a bakery when their own mother is an amazing baker (her job)? (If I were the mother, I’d be a bit annoyed. And I certainly wouldn’t give my kids money for that.) And why are they going two times a day to get cookies or cheesy croissants?
4) I had a hard time remembering which child was which. I mean the family does have five kids, so it was a little difficult to remember all their names, PLUS all the pets they have in the house. Since the book already has illustrations, why didn’t they give us a family illustration? Even simple silhouettes with names underneath and something to help us identify each character, like Isa (plays the violin); Jessie (the scientist); etc.
My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I had some mixed feelings about this book. There’s a lot that I loved. The siblings. The Harlem neighbourhood. The cranky neighbour. The attempts of the children to befriend him. But there were also things that irked to no end. Like the sudden eviction and the summer-y (but wait! It’s supposed to be winter!) weather/atmosphere. But in the end, this book came together. I choked up at the end (in a good way), so I will recommend this book 🙂
Have you read this book? Who’s your favourite Vanderbeeker? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!